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Outdoor Physical Hazards

Employers and employees both have to cope with the physical hazards that exist, especially during the summer months. Some of those hazards include stinging insects, poisonous plants, and poisonous animals.

When temperatures increase, so does insect activity. Many times, these insects are just annoying, but in some circumstances, they can be hazardous, or even deadly. The most common stinging insects are bees, wasps, hornets and fire ants. In regards to the common insects, most people have mild reactions which can include redness, itching, swelling of the affected area, and pain. The greatest problem occurs when a person who is allergic to insect stings is stung. Over 2 million people in the U.S. are allergic to insect stings. This can cause what is called an anaphylactic reaction. This reaction can cause difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the face, throat or mouth, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, and potentially death.

To avoid being stung/bitten, try to be on the lookout for nests and other resting places. If you see a nest or hive, leave it alone. Also try to stay away from things that will attract insects e.g., sweet fragrances, food, open soda cans or garbage areas. Wear appropriate clothing when outdoors e.g., long sleeves.

Many plants are capable of causing an allergic reaction to the skin. The three most notorious are Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac and Poison Oak. All three are native to the South. They produce a resin that contains a chemical called Urushiol that actually does the damage. The resin is exposed when the plant is injured, however, it takes very little contact to damage the plant. Urushiol can cause rash, blisters and itching 24 to 28 hours after exposure. Unfortunately, direct contact is not necessary. If you think you might have been exposed, wash yourself, your clothing and your equipment. The resin in the plant can cause problems weeks, or even months, after exposure. Symptoms of exposure include lesions, itching, possible weeping from the lesions. Onset generally takes 24-48 hours and healing can be up to 2-3 weeks.

To avoid exposure, cover exposed skin and do not handle vines or unknown plants unnecessarily. If you have been exposed, the best treatment for weeping lesions is Aluminum Acetate (Burrow’s Soaks) applied 15-30 minutes twice a day, an oatmeal bath 2-3 times daily for 30 minutes. Over the counter antihistamines are also useful, but AVOID topical antihistamines, anesthetics or zirconium while the lesions are actively weeping. Only use hydrocortisone ointment after they have dried.

The most common and dangerous group of animals that pose a danger to humans are venomous snakes. The most common venomous snakes in the North Alabama area are the Rattlesnakes (timber, eastern diamondback, pygmy, canebrake), Cottonmouth, Copperhead and Coral Snake. There are distinguishable characteristics between the venomous and non-venomous snakes, but the general rule of thumb is that if you are close enough to tell the difference, you are probably too close! It is best to give any snake a wide berth and leave it alone. To avoid being bitten, stay out of tall grass, unless you have thick leather boots, try to keep your hands and feet out of areas you can’t see, and try to be cautious and alert when climbing on rocks.

If you are bitten, wash the site with soap and water, immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart, then get to a medical facility as soon as possible. The following methods are NOT to be performed on anyone after being bitten. They can cause grievous harm to the victim: Cooling the area with ice or any other cooling agent; Using any type of tourniquet; Giving the victim an electrical shock; Making an incision at or around the wound site.

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